It is believed that one cannot say that they have seen India if they have not been to Varanasi. Once called Benares, which is considered the oldest living city in the world, Varanasi, is part of that circle of living cities among Rome, Jerusalem and Athens.
Well, I can confirm this idea for all that you see in India, its colors, its contrasts, often precarious hygienic conditions, the confusion, the chaotic traffic has led Varanasi to the 9th degree, but a visit of the city is a must if you decide to take a trip to India.
We begin the visit of the city by going to the archaeological site of Sarnath, where there remains some Buddhist temples and the stupa of Dhamekh, one of the largest and best preserved in the place, and where the Buddha is said to have preached for the first time. It is a 35 meters high topped mound with an octagonal tower and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.
It is the daily life of Varanasi that strikes the visitor. The chaos, the constant sound of horns, the children's eyes that you meet on the street, here acquire a special charm but two things are absolutely not to be missed in Varanasi that is the prayer ceremony along the ghats and watching the sunrise on the River Ganges. The ghats are flights of stone stairs that end within the water of the river.
You can take a seat on one of the ghats and attend these ceremonies, based on the cult of the four elements of life (water, air, fire, earth), with the sprinkling of fragrant incense by the celebrants. The ritual will move even those who profess a different religion. Thousands of people and hundreds of boats flock to the stairways near the banks of the river to attend the celebration.
With an alarm clock at 4 in the morning we walk to the semi-dark streets of Varanasi to get back on the river banks and take a small rowing boat to attend one of the most intense shows that you can watch in a lifetime of the dawn on the Ganges. Here on the river, in the morning, people come to bathe and make ablutions.
There are those who wash clothes, or just face and teeth in the sacred water of the river, and the same water where they scatter the ashes of the dead who are brought here to Varanasi to be cremated on huge pyres that are located along the shores.
We were then to Manikarnika Ghat, the most disturbing place in the city of Varanasi, there, where life and death come together in the light of the sun and moon, all day for thousands of years and the place of cremation, which allows you to end the cycle of life and find Nirvana. We stop on the one hand and remain hours to see these scenes, amazed, excited but also tremble. Our guide also tells us that children and people bitten and poisoned cannot be cremated but are cut and thrown directly into the river.
Varanasi is a place that maybe you can see 1000 times in documentaries, but when you see it with your eyes it is a thousand times stronger. You always think that television makes you see just a small part, the more fictional, poetic, and suited to public needs, but no, what you see here is a reality that takes place anywhere, anytime and it's like walking into the middle of a movie.
We spend all morning along the river, as we go up and down the Ghats, and beneath our feet is just mud, sand and clay. We enter into the old town, as we walk in the middle of shit and dirt, where there are hordes of goats, cows, dogs, mini dumps that burn all day, and Hindu temples, a bit everywhere, people with coal fired irons, shamans, hermits and naked Sadhus, who sleep and meditate in the midst of all this with the scent of incense and Charas which is everywhere.
In the evening we go to Dasaswamedh ghat which is close by where every evening is held a ceremony on the river with a group of priests with drum music, incense and lamps. It lasts about forty-five minutes, and is full of Indians and tourists. It's a very impressive and spectacular ceremony.
But the day is not over, and we take a cycle rickshaw and having risked our life a hundred times in the midst of a million machines we go to the station to catch the night train to Khajuraho, in another sea of complete chaos, people from all sides, hundreds of people crossing the tracks, the inevitable cows and trains with travelers over the carriages. Luckily we find our train and say goodbye to Varanasi or Benares.
This is Varanasi, a unique city, which can surprise or upset you, but it undoubtedly offers a spiritual growth for the world traveler.